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Penske Dominates IndyCar’s ‘Test In The West’

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, February 27 2016
Helio Castroneves led the pack in Phoenix on Friday.

Helio Castroneves led the pack in Phoenix on Friday.

RacinToday.com

The Verizon IndyCar Series “Test in the West” brought out the record-best in Team Penske Friday.

Helio Castroneves led four Team Penske drivers in the top six after the first session of the Phoenix International Raceway promoter test with a lap time that unofficially eclipsed the track record around the 1.022-mile oval.

Arie Luyendyk, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner just named one of three officiating stewards for the 2016 season, holds the official one-lap record of 19.608-seconds/183.599 mph set in 1996 when the track in Avondale, Ariz., was measured at an even 1-mile.

Castroneves bettered the mark late in the mid-day session with a lap of 19.585-seconds/187.850 mph in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Teammate Will Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, also topped Luyendyk’s standard with a lap of 19.5931-seconds/187.780 mph. Official Indy car track records can only be set during a qualifying or race session.

Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti led the evening practice with a lap of 19.6038-seconds/187.678 mph under the lights in the No. 27 Snapple Honda that was third on the combined speed chart behind the afternoon times of Castroneves and Power. Four-time/reigning series champion Scott Dixon was second-fast in the night session at 19.6066-seconds/187.651 mph in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

“We were able to run in both temperature (conditions), which was OK,” Castroneves said. “Obviously, earlier today in the day conditions, we were focusing on speed and the Hitachi car was really dialed-in. This evening, we were able to work more on the race pace, and everything seems to be going in the right direction. We’re looking strong and looking good, but we’re still learning about this updated Chevy aero kit. Looking forward to tomorrow and learning even more.”

Twenty-one cars are participating in the promoter test that has two more sessions scheduled Saturday. The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to PIR following an 11-year absence for the Phoenix Grand Prix on April 1-2. It is the second of 16 races on the 2016 schedule that opens March 11-13 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Fla.) and includes the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May.

In addition to Castroneves and Power, Team Penske drivers Juan Pablo Montoya (fourth) and Simon Pagenaud (sixth) ran near the front in the afternoon. At the completion of the second practice, 19 of the 21 drivers were within a half-second of Castroneves’ top lap.

Castroneves is one of a select few drivers who raced at PIR when it was on the 2005 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. He won the 2002 race and said the track is still quite challenging, even though it has been reconfigured slightly to open up Turn 2.

“The track is pretty much the same,” said Castroneves, a three-time Indy 500 winner. “When you come into Turn 1, it’s like, are you going to turn? After the corner, you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s opening up.’ It’s very interesting on that scenario. Doesn’t mean it’s easy.  We’re still talking about I don’t know how many Gs, but it’s a lot. It’s a very heavy steering wheel, which is going to be even more heavy at night because we are going to put fuel in and things like that.”

Ed Carpenter, owner/driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, also drove at PIR for Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2004 and ’05. He was third-quick in the evening session and likes how his car felt under the lights.

“As the night grew on you saw more and more people were doing race running, so the time charts really don’t mean much,” said Carpenter, an oval-track specialist. “We’re all working through our individual test plans and we’re happy with where we are, we think we have good pace. I’m probably more encouraged by how my car feels in traffic and dirty air, so I’m really pleased with how the Chevy aero kit is handling turbulence whether it’s running behind a Chevy or a Honda.”

Andretti Autosport took inspiration from the Andretti family’s illustrious racing past in developing liveries for its cars that will compete in the Verizon IndyCar Series and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2016.

The paint schemes are a nod to family patriarch Mario Andretti, father of team-owner Michael Andretti and grandfather to team driver Marco Andretti. The 1972 Vel’s Parnelli Jones car that Mario drove in Indy car competition that season serves as the basis for the 2016 Andretti Autosport car liveries.

While each of the seven cars _ for IndyCar Series drivers Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and Alexander Rossi and Indy Lights drivers Shelby Blackstock, Dalton Kellett and Dean Stoneman _ will still each carry the colors of their respective sponsors, each will feature a unified color stripe starting at the forward cockpit and running through the rear of the car.

That is reminiscent of Mario’s 1972 entry that also became the design inspiration for his iconic race helmet that has been used by all three generations of Andretti racers.

“As we enter an historic season of Indy car racing, with the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, I’m proud to be able to bring this design element into our field of cars,” Michael Andretti said. “My father was an inspiration to me in my career, and remains an inspiration and major supporter to our industry. To carry a little history with us is something special.”

Gabby Chaves, 2015 Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the Verizon IndyCar Series, is filling in for Mikhail Aleshin this weekend in the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports SMP Racing Honda. Aleshin, the contracted driver for the No. 7 car, is unable to attend the test due to last-minute work visa issues in his native Russia.

Chaves finished 15th in the point standings last year with Bryan Herta Autosport, completing the second-most laps of any driver. The 22-year-old native of Bogota, Colombia, drove for Schmidt Peterson’s Indy Lights program in 2013.

“I’m happy and pleased to be able to help out Sam, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and the HPD Honda family,” said Chaves, who also was named the Indianapolis 500’s top rookie in 2015. “I’ll do my best out there and see how I can contribute to the team. It’s a difficult situation for the team and Mikhail, but I’m always ready to go when needed. I’m happy to help a team that I’ve worked with before.”

Luca Filippi joined the IndyCar Series field at PIR testing Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda as a teammate to Conor Daly. Filippi, who has competed in 18 road/street events in his career, never has raced on an oval, though he did test at Iowa Speedway with Ed Carpenter Racing in 2015 when it was known as CFH Racing.

“It’s very different preparing for an oval versus a road or street course,” Filippi said. “Normally I’m used to looking for a setup that can push me to brake deeper or just go faster, while now it’s me that I have to basically understand what the car wants to do to go faster. It’s kind of the other way around, but it’s good fun. I know I have to learn but it’s good to have a test here.”

Filippi has yet to be confirmed for the 2016 season, but he’s hopeful of building chemistry with the Coyne team. “We’re working with the team in order to get to know each other a little better and we are taking the right steps and going the right direction,” Filippi said. “So far, I’m very excited and I’m having fun driving around the circuit. It’s very demanding, very technical but very exciting as well.”

 

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, February 27 2016
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